"There I am in amongst them"
Sermon for 7 Feb.1999
Texts: Matthew 18:19-20 Ezekiel 10:4 & 18; 11:23 and 43:1-4
We continue our series in our search for purpose.
The prophet Ezekiel portrays for us the departure of the "shekinah" glory of God—an extra-biblical term for the shining, dwelling presence of God—from the temple as coinciding with the judgment of God. In particular he is looking towards the destruction of Jerusalem in judgment for apostasy and wickedness. They have turned from God and pure worship with the result of wickedness and social depravity. Those who continue in evil practices cannot worship God, for He will not abide their presence—that is why purifying our hearts is critically important as preparation for worship. The prayers of a righteous person availeth much, the prayers of the unrighteous are useless! Seeking to be right with each other and right with God are prerequisites for true and effectual worship. What’s marvelous in Ezekiel’s picture is the graphic nature of the stages of God’s departure.
In the midst of judgment over the city, the glory is aroused in the holy of Holies. It pours over the threshold into the whole house of God, filling the court. Then there is movement again towards the east gate of the temple, and the glory of the God of Israel is over the cherubim there. There is more judgment for the wicked things that have come into their minds (11:5) and the glory is lifted up from the midst of the city to stand on the mountain, the Mount of Olives, which is on the east side of the city. From this point on the glory of God is treated as if withdrawn, say, into the heavens until the time of exile and judgment are over and Ezekiel prophesies the return by "the way of the east" in Chapter 43:1-4. As Christians we are justified in seeing these prophecies as a prefigurement of the return of Jesus Christ in the Second Coming when Jesus returns with all His angels, in glory and power.
However, in the meantime, we are to be encouraged by the fact that the glory of God as found in the indwelling presence of Jesus Christ is already ours and that is what today’s passage from Matthew plainly declares. Jesus Christ is the shekinah glory of God in our midst! Our God is not absent, nor do we seek His face in vain. Particularly, we are to find in our joint prayer, in our union and communion in prayer, which occurs whenever two or three are gathered together in His Name the immediate and constant presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. As it is written, "Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you. . ." (1 Cor.6: 19) If we have faith we are in-dwelt by God entirely: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. "And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." (Ephesians 2:22) And while this is an individual reality, it is also a corporate one. Christ meets us in the sacred assembly, in the place of worship because wherever two or three are gathered together in His name there He is amongst them, in the midst of them.
I should explain that Jesus Christ is in all places, so what we are stressing here is that He is especially present in the assembly which is His sanctuary, His resting place ("This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I sit enthroned, for I have desired it—"Psalm 132:14). It is also His walk. In Revelation, the glorified Lord is depicted as walking amongst the seven lampstands (i.e. the churches), signifying that He is on duty with the church beat! He visits and examines the churches. He quickens, strengthens, refreshes and comforts on the beat which He keeps because He is present in their hearts—Christ’s Spirit is eternally joined with our spirits!
Therefore, we do not seek the Lord’s face in vain. He is very near to us. His law is written in our hearts and His presence reinforces the wonder of obedience. Of course, this raises the subject of discipline again—we visited in 16:19 where the focus was on preaching. The focus here is on prayer, especially corporate prayer. In worship we are to be wholly given to word and prayer! Not as judges and lords, but as entitled petitioners—we ask, and God enacts! And in all things pertaining to the conversion of sinners and the sanctification of the saints we are heard, we are answered. We do not seek our Lord in vain because when we gather to worship Him, He meets us here. He precedes and awaits us here. His presence is instant, not tardy, His attention is focused, not distracted. . .He is communicating concern for our well-being which is beyond both understanding and imagination. In our wildest dreams we could not begin to frame the goodness and blessing of the Lord which He purposes for us and these things come to us when we gather in His Name, when we worship, when we become the assembly.